The Fundamentals Of Planning Your Business Travel Like An Expert

ENSURE YOU HAVE A CLEAR-CUT TRAVEL POLICY SET UP
A well-defined travel policy is an important (and cost-effective) manner of effective travel management. A specified travel policy should outline clearly stipulated guidelines for all employees with regards to responsibilities and while traveling; travel arrangements and travel expenses.There are a numerous factors to consider when compiling a travel policy for your company.Although cost-effectiveness is an important requirement, it is vital that you don’t jeopardies the safety and quality of travel service, as well as compromise on travelling employees’ travel needs. Offer a small variety of options that allow employees to select one that suits them the best. You can avoid unnecessary compromise even further by letting employees offer their thoughts and/ opinions during the decision-making process.Always ensure that you always have your employees’ up-to-date contact details on hand, in case of emergencies.Responsibility regarding expenses – personal, business, leisure etc. – must always be clearly and precisely set out.GET A GRIP ON TRAVEL TECH
Travel planning has undoubtedly been revolutionised by the rise of online booking apps. The trouble with the increase in availability of such tools is choosing which one to use for your business travel planning.A great option is to have a ‘personalised’ online booking tool that has been custom made according to you business’ particular travel policies and needs. Although having your own travel tech has its advantages – such as being able to increase efficiency with built in approval processes and managing your travel at any time – there are a few disadvantages that should be noted. The initial designing and assembly, as well as the continued administration, of a custom online booking tool can be rather steep. Another drawback is that all the research necessary will be your responsibility. It begs the question whether the convenience is worth the required effort and cost.A terrific option is to make use of a travel management company (TMC). Working with a TMC means acquire an experienced travel management asset that is a devoted travel manager. A travel manager can assist you in making the best travel decisions, based on your unique business requirements. Further benefits include help with a multitude of other details, such as VISA applications; arranging ground transport; arranging Forex and taking care of travel emergencies.The smart choice would be to use a combination of the two. The advantages of TMCs are clear and they often have an online booking tool that companies can use. This way you get best of both – the convenience and control of managing your travel bookings yourself, as well as the individual support and assistance with more complicated and/ or time-consuming processes.ENSURE TRAVELLING EMPLOYEES’ SAFETY
Although business travel is an essential and probable part of most businesses, is doesn’t come without risks. A company has a duty of care to its employees. This means it has a legal (and moral) obligation to elude risk of injury to an employee during a business trip, as much as possible. The onus is on you (the travel planner) to ensure that all the proper safety plans and measures are in place. This means assigning sufficient travel insurance, which includes medical cover, lost luggage, flight cancellations, as well as natural disasters and terrorism and everything in between.Employees must be informed of the associated risks of their destinations, before travelling, and need to be informed of the course of action to follow in case there is a travel emergency.It is vital to always know where your companies travelling employees without exception. There is a multitude of apps and online tools that you can use to help keep track of and stay in touch with your travellers.PRE-BOOK TO SAVE
You can save more when you plan ahead when it comes to making travel arrangements. Research has proven that business travellers who only book their flights a day beforehand – can end up paying as much as 200% more for their flights.In contrast – airfares are generally the cheapest from three weeks and more before the departure date. Employing an advanced purchase strategy, you can reduce or moderate the influence of price fluctuations on your company’s travel budget. Although it’s not always possible to book so far in advance as meetings and schedules are sometimes changed at the last minute), it is definitely worth the effort in the long term.APPOINT THE MOST QUALIFIED PERSON
Travel planning is not an easy task – it’s far more than just coordinating itineraries. The responsibilities of a travel manager range from bookings, policy management, budget approvals, reporting and handling travel emergencies. Then there’s the time-consuming task of finding the most affordable flights, ground transport, accommodation etc.Managing your company’s travel plans yourself has some advantages, such as great understanding of the needs and schedules of your travellers. However, employing an experienced and well-equipped corporate travel agencies will save you a great deal of the hassle. Quality TMCs have a comprehensive understanding and knowledge of the travel industry, which empowers them to know when, how and where to find and book the best offers. Furthermore, TMCs often have global buying power and long-standing relationships with suppliers – which offer you the added benefit of being able to secure discounted fares on larger travel volumes.

Case Study: From Red to Black, Generate Double-Digit Sales Increases Through Strategic Marketing

Conventional wisdom states that when times are bad and sales are down, management should cut all expenses except sales and marketing. And when things get really bad, management must cut everything but sales because selling is the fastest way to increase revenues.This business-to-business case study illustrates how, if executed properly, strategic marketing can sometimes be a quicker, more efficient and more effective way to grow sales.The Situation A manufacturing firm’s brand enjoyed high name recognition, and the longstanding business had survived and often thrived through multiple business cycles during its storied history. A competent management team had been assembled and was balancing operational needs with cash-flow requirements.However, sales of the manufacturer’s primary division were declining and the market for its products was in a severe depression. The lack of volume meant the company was not covering its overhead. Escalating energy and raw material costs were eroding profit margins.Product and Distribution ChannelsMarket perceptions of its products were mixed. The company had a strong reputation as a manufacturer of “green” building products, but it was not well regarded for solving end-user problems. The firm was not in a position to compete on price.Although the company’s products were esteemed by specifiers and designers for being sustainable and other specific performance attributes, many end-users were put off by the high cost of the products, and sometimes found these products to be difficult to work with and of questionable quality.Low sales volume and slow inventory turns decreased the company’s value to channel members and kept new distributors from taking on the line. To cut costs, existing distributors reduced their inventories of the company’s products, and dropped slower-moving niche items manufactured by the firm entirely.In response, management hired a full-service marketing firm and undertook a full-blown marketing and advertising campaign. The marketing message trumpeted the environmental friendliness of the firm’s products but failed to communicate their other performance values.Choosing Strategic PrioritiesRather than simply initiating a typical marketing campaign, the company needed to find:· A high-volume application…· In which it could be cost-competitive…· In which it had a different story to tell…· In an expanding market, enabling growth without having to take market share…· And reestablish its value to distributors.Internal AssessmentThe company’s primary product is a fiber board used for various purposes by construction trades. Reducing sound transmission in buildings appeared to be the company’s best opportunity to generate volume. Multi-family projects that required sound reduction could require multiple truckloads of product. The firm already marketed this application but was not emphasizing it.The company’s sound-reduction product performed well and was cost-competitive in flooring applications. It was installed very differently than the products dominating the market. Competing products were sold directly to specialty contractors, bypassing traditional distributors and contractors.The housing market had collapsed with no recovery in sight. The lack of money for down payments, overly strict mortgage requirements, and fear of declining home values crippled demand.Still, people needed places to live. Apartment construction, while also down, remained viable, and increased demand was forecast for the foreseeable future. Demographic changes predicted surging demand for student housing and assisted living. Changing consumer tastes were boosting the desire for urban living. The Federal government’s spending on affordable housing, often in the form of apartments, was increasing in an effort spur economic growth.Executing the Strategy A volume application had been identified that met the company’s strategic imperatives. The marketing group now needed to focus all its resources on implementing the initiative as quickly and inexpensively as possible against larger, better-capitalized competitors that dominated the market. Every problem perceived by customers that could hold back sales needed to be solved.HowThe marketing team implemented a wide array of tactics to support the new strategy:Brought It Inside. To reduce cost, the firm terminated its engagement with the full-service outside marketing agency and brought marketing in-house, with assistance from independent professionals.Aligned the Messaging. The marketing team developed a compelling tag line aligned with the new strategy. The message was simple and specific, yet universal to the company’s other product lines.Developed Aligned Materials. The team conveyed its solution and addressed all known obstacles through new marketing tools in a wide variety of mediums, including video, website, packaging, sales aides, installation graphics, product sheets, trade show booths and more.Accessed All Available Channels. The team tapped all available cost-effective channels to disseminate the message, including the company website, YouTube and industry related third-party websites.Quality Improvements. The marketing team communicated quality improvements needed to increase market acceptance to operations. The Operations Department innovated and made improvements. Third-party testing labs were engaged to refute end-user performance concerns and induce confidence.Bottom LineThe shift in marketing strategy contributed significantly to turning around declining revenues into consecutive year-over-year sales increases of 20% and beyond. Identifying and targeting an expanding market segment supported this growth in sales. Increased market share remained a goal but was not required for significant recurring revenue increases.Companies that follow conventional wisdom run the risk of leaving core problems undiagnosed and fail to turn sales around. The strategic marketing process avoids this pitfall. Strategic marketing effectively gives the sales force an improved product to sell and a better market to sell it into, thereby propelling increased sales at a rapid rate.The company could not have sold its way out of declining revenues without first changing its go-to-market strategies. It needed to find a market opportunity that met its strategic imperatives and provided a focus point for success. Compelling marketing messages provided efficient market penetration in a way that selling by individuals or teams could not.If done innovatively, with an eye on costs, strategic marketing can be the fastest way to spur sales growth.

Alternative Financing Vs. Venture Capital: Which Option Is Best for Boosting Working Capital?

There are several potential financing options available to cash-strapped businesses that need a healthy dose of working capital. A bank loan or line of credit is often the first option that owners think of – and for businesses that qualify, this may be the best option.

In today’s uncertain business, economic and regulatory environment, qualifying for a bank loan can be difficult – especially for start-up companies and those that have experienced any type of financial difficulty. Sometimes, owners of businesses that don’t qualify for a bank loan decide that seeking venture capital or bringing on equity investors are other viable options.

But are they really? While there are some potential benefits to bringing venture capital and so-called “angel” investors into your business, there are drawbacks as well. Unfortunately, owners sometimes don’t think about these drawbacks until the ink has dried on a contract with a venture capitalist or angel investor – and it’s too late to back out of the deal.

Different Types of Financing

One problem with bringing in equity investors to help provide a working capital boost is that working capital and equity are really two different types of financing.

Working capital – or the money that is used to pay business expenses incurred during the time lag until cash from sales (or accounts receivable) is collected – is short-term in nature, so it should be financed via a short-term financing tool. Equity, however, should generally be used to finance rapid growth, business expansion, acquisitions or the purchase of long-term assets, which are defined as assets that are repaid over more than one 12-month business cycle.

But the biggest drawback to bringing equity investors into your business is a potential loss of control. When you sell equity (or shares) in your business to venture capitalists or angels, you are giving up a percentage of ownership in your business, and you may be doing so at an inopportune time. With this dilution of ownership most often comes a loss of control over some or all of the most important business decisions that must be made.

Sometimes, owners are enticed to sell equity by the fact that there is little (if any) out-of-pocket expense. Unlike debt financing, you don’t usually pay interest with equity financing. The equity investor gains its return via the ownership stake gained in your business. But the long-term “cost” of selling equity is always much higher than the short-term cost of debt, in terms of both actual cash cost as well as soft costs like the loss of control and stewardship of your company and the potential future value of the ownership shares that are sold.

Alternative Financing Solutions

But what if your business needs working capital and you don’t qualify for a bank loan or line of credit? Alternative financing solutions are often appropriate for injecting working capital into businesses in this situation. Three of the most common types of alternative financing used by such businesses are:

1. Full-Service Factoring – Businesses sell outstanding accounts receivable on an ongoing basis to a commercial finance (or factoring) company at a discount. The factoring company then manages the receivable until it is paid. Factoring is a well-established and accepted method of temporary alternative finance that is especially well-suited for rapidly growing companies and those with customer concentrations.

2. Accounts Receivable (A/R) Financing – A/R financing is an ideal solution for companies that are not yet bankable but have a stable financial condition and a more diverse customer base. Here, the business provides details on all accounts receivable and pledges those assets as collateral. The proceeds of those receivables are sent to a lockbox while the finance company calculates a borrowing base to determine the amount the company can borrow. When the borrower needs money, it makes an advance request and the finance company advances money using a percentage of the accounts receivable.

3. Asset-Based Lending (ABL) – This is a credit facility secured by all of a company’s assets, which may include A/R, equipment and inventory. Unlike with factoring, the business continues to manage and collect its own receivables and submits collateral reports on an ongoing basis to the finance company, which will review and periodically audit the reports.

In addition to providing working capital and enabling owners to maintain business control, alternative financing may provide other benefits as well:

It’s easy to determine the exact cost of financing and obtain an increase.
Professional collateral management can be included depending on the facility type and the lender.
Real-time, online interactive reporting is often available.
It may provide the business with access to more capital.
It’s flexible – financing ebbs and flows with the business’ needs.
It’s important to note that there are some circumstances in which equity is a viable and attractive financing solution. This is especially true in cases of business expansion and acquisition and new product launches – these are capital needs that are not generally well suited to debt financing. However, equity is not usually the appropriate financing solution to solve a working capital problem or help plug a cash-flow gap.

A Precious Commodity

Remember that business equity is a precious commodity that should only be considered under the right circumstances and at the right time. When equity financing is sought, ideally this should be done at a time when the company has good growth prospects and a significant cash need for this growth. Ideally, majority ownership (and thus, absolute control) should remain with the company founder(s).

Alternative financing solutions like factoring, A/R financing and ABL can provide the working capital boost many cash-strapped businesses that don’t qualify for bank financing need – without diluting ownership and possibly giving up business control at an inopportune time for the owner. If and when these companies become bankable later, it’s often an easy transition to a traditional bank line of credit. Your banker may be able to refer you to a commercial finance company that can offer the right type of alternative financing solution for your particular situation.

Taking the time to understand all the different financing options available to your business, and the pros and cons of each, is the best way to make sure you choose the best option for your business. The use of alternative financing can help your company grow without diluting your ownership. After all, it’s your business – shouldn’t you keep as much of it as possible?